Like Ang Lee and Zhang Yimou, noted filmmaker Chen Kaige has turned to the martial arts
genre to produce what has been touted as the most expensive Chinese movie up to the present.
Well, it would clearly appear that every dollar spent is on screen in the lavish costumes and
gorgeous sets. Some of the special effects are clearly not up to the world-wide standards set
by Hollywood but still
THE PROMISE (Wu ji) is a visual and aural treat.

We are in the land of myth and fantasy. THE PROMISE opens with Qingcheng, a young girl
rifling the dead bodies of soldiers in an attempt to find food and other supplies for her sickly
mother. She meets up with the son of the army's leader who makes her swear a promise to be
his servant. The clever girl agrees if the boy will let her examine his helmet. Using the headgear
as a weapon, she knocks the boy over and runs off. On her way home, she encounters the
goddess Manchen (Chen Hong) who informs the girl that her mother is dead. Manchen offers
the girl a proposition: in return for a life filled with wealth and the admiration of all, Qingcheng
never will be with the man she loves. She is told to choose wisely.

Skip ahead some twenty or so years and we see a battle led by the general of the
Crimson Army (Hiroyuki Sanada). He has purchased a large quantity of slaves to use as bait
in battle. One of those men, Kunlun (Jang Dong-Kun), exhibits amazing speed (it's here that
the special effects look somewhat cheesy.) Eventually the General takes on the slave.
When they are attacked by the assassin Snow Wolf (Liu Ye), Kunlun saves the General's life.
Wounded, the army leader cannot ride to rescue the King from the nefarious Duke of the North
(Nicholas Tse) so he instructs Kunlun to put on his armor and ride to the rescue. When Kunlun
arrives in the city, he sees a damsel in distress and saves her, inadvertently killing the King.
The damsel, of course, is a now grown Qingcheng (Cecelia Cheung). Eventually she is imprisoned
by the Duke (literally as a bird in a gilded cage) but she mistakenly believes it was the general
who saved her. What follows is a series of mistaken identities, mismatched lovers and surprising
connections among the principals.

The international cast meshes nicely, the cinematography by Academy Award winner
Peter Pau (who shot CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON) is masterful. The
production design and the costumes (by Tim Yip with support on the clothing from Kimiya  Masago)
are sumptuous.

Originally the film was acquired for distribution by Harvey Weinstein who oversaw the
cutting of some 20 minutes of footage. Hopefully that material will be added back for the
DVD release of China's entry in the 2005 Academy Award sweepstakes. Even in its edited
form, and despite the less than stellar special effects, THE PROMISE is a glorious and beautiful
movie that deserves to be seen.

                       Rating:                        B+
                       MPAA rating:             PG-13 for stylized violence and martial arts action,
                                                                       and some sexual content
                      Running time:              102 mins.

                                      Viewed at the Regal Battery Park Stadium 11
The Promise (Wu ji)
©  2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.